Winnebago County has been depleting its General Basic Fund in order to pay for building improvements, new facilities in the county, and other unexpected expenses. The Auditor’s Office has informed the Board of Supervisors that the county will use every tax dollar that comes in this year in some capacity to keep with mandatory expenses such as salaries, office supplies, utilities, and other required operating expenses.
In the course of trying to understand where the money had gone, supervisors learned that the cost to tuck point and repair the historic courthouse had mushroomed from roughly $300,000 to over $900,000. There were now additional and unexpected new expenses involved in the operation of the new county jail and sheriffs office or Public Safety Center. These included the hiring of female jailers and additional jail staff.
Winnebago County Auditor Karla Weiss has taken a proactive approach to resolving the issue by getting the board to understand exactly where each and every tax dollar in the budget is going. In the meeting last week, she, her office, and the external auditor working with Weiss on the internal audit, told the board to go through each receipt and expense related item in the semi-monthly county claims. The purpose was to get the supervisors to see first hand, what departments are spending, and on what. This would give them a clearer view of the expenses when the budget negotiations came around. Weiss has also called on the board to begin those negotiations sooner in order to rein in the expenses and produce a much more effective budget.
Normally the board looks at a summary of all expenses on one sheet of paper. This report is not reflective of each and every expense by each department which includes the new jail, the road department, treasury, and all other departments. The approach last week by Weiss was more in depth and involved. Supervisor Mike Stensrud suggested a similar approach when addressing the Winnebago Health Department officials in a meeting two weeks ago. However, when Weiss and her office brought all the files for inspection, Stensrud objected after going through one file.
The objection follows an October 31st meeting when he abruptly walked out after apologizing for his and others actions, “…in getting the county into the financial mess we are in.”
Stensrud made his, “not doing this,” comments after Weiss had briefly left the room to attend to matters in her office. When she returned a few minutes later, Stensrud had already moved and Supervisor Terry Durby hesitantly seconded the approval of the claims. Supervisor Bill Jensvold was still looking through paperwork when the vote was taken. It appeared that the supervisors voted to approve the county claims without looking at a summary of them. Then Stensrud called for a Balance Sheet Report, generally a two or three page document that summarizes how much money the county has spent and what it has left, to be published for the supervisors to review in future meetings. Stensrud added that he and the board might spot check a department file from time to time, but gave no timetable on when those checks might be done.
Weiss and her office will honor the Stensrud request by submitting a Balance Sheet Report in the November 21st meeting, but would still like the board to get more in depth with the aforementioned expenses and the nearly $500,000 of board approved additional expenses which were not planned for in the current budget.